I just met Allan Weatherall. About 50 years old; a big Australian man, tan and kind in the face.
We started chatting and the inevitable question of why I was here came up. Then the inevitable questions about why I was going, and the inevitable and dreaded question about my faith. It seems wanting to help people without a Christian motivation is simply incomprehensible.
Once the cat is out of the bag that Christ isn't my one true savior either a disgruntled judgment or a forgiving and intrigued delve into religion ensues.
Allan, to say the least, was a Christian...
For a little while I almost understood what he was saying. He was confused about spirituality as a teenager, and he was getting into Eastern religions; Buddhism in fact led him to Christ, he said. He sat down by his bedside one day with a book on eastern meditations in his hands. He said to God, "There are things in this book which I agree with and make sense to me, and there are things that completely confuse me. If there is more to what I'm reading here, I need you to make it known."
He said he got up from his knees, knowing that something big was going to come. He felt he needed a spirtual guide, someone to help him unravel his confusions. A few weeks later his brother's friend visited. His brother said, "let me warn you, he's very religious and very adamant about his religion."
The man, Joshua, was from Malaysia. He had been a committed Buddhist, and then had come to follow Christ. He didn't believe in Christianity as a religion, but he believed in following Christ.
I told Allan that I think believing in Christ, this figment of a man, who probably existed and probably was great, takes the power out of your hands. It gives you a sense of control, but it's a false sense of control. And believing in God, especially a just god, who will make everything all right, disempowers you even more.
I told him of friends I had made at NYU, one of whom was in an abusive relationship. She said, "I know that God will take care of me, and God will make it all okay." To me that is religion working deftly against her, I explained. If she had taken stopped thinking about God as controlling her life for just a moment, she would have had a much greater chance at extricating herself from the situation. Putting it in gods hands made her feel more okay with remaining in the situation, but also prevented her from beginning the process of getting out of it.
He told me he believes the bible is infallible. I asked him, what about Solomon who pulled down the temple killing himself and hundreds of people? Solomon was exalted and revered in heaven. For killing hundreds of people (not to mention himself, in a religion where suicide is no menial sin).
Allan said, would it change if I told you that the people Solomon killed-- No it wouldn't, I said. But continue.
Would it change if I told you that the people Solomon killed, in their religion which was very prominent at the time, sacrificed children and spread STDS with their animals, and perpetrated all sorts of human rights violations, and would have been doing so for generations to come?
Think of it like surgery, he continued. Surgery is very violent; it's bloody and traumatic and painful. But if you eradicate a cancer, and allow the person to live much longer, it can be justified.
I liked the cancer analogy.
But, I said, to me that is a lack of faith. That is a God who separates people and puts some above others, and doesn't have patience or forgiveness. I see it more as a body riddled with cancer, and that would be simply allowing one cancer to overtake another.
The surgery analogy becomes complicated here, and we left it.
It's the contradiction that gets me, I told Allan. That this is an all forgiving god, and we are ALL of us his children. And yet, here he is exalting one child for killing several others. And the justification, is that those children were bad children. So then where did forgiveness go?
When Moses tried to free his people, God killed the first born of all the families under Pharaoh's rule. But those babies were victims, they weren't the ones preventing the Jews from being set free.
But, said Allan, that is a just God. And God started out small. Killing the first borns was the last thing he did in the plagues. When Pharaoh continued to refuse God's requests, God was just.
And yet, I said, Pharaoh was the one making the refusal. Not his people, and certainly not their children.
Here we came to an impass. And Allan correctly pointed out that we don't know historically what actually happened. So we moved on.
I think it's apparent that you are very specifically not objective about God.
No, I'm not I responded. In fact I definitely work to resist it.
That seems against the way of an intellectual. Have you unpacked that and tried to figure out why that is? he asked.
In some sense, I responded. I brought up again the instance of my friend in the abusive relationship that was in the "hands of God." Things go awry when people put all their eggs in the God basket, I said. And I never want to do that. I believe I have to be cautious about it. Christianity is one of the most prominent religions, especially here. But to me that doesn't necessarily mean that it is the right thing or the one truth. In fact the idea of one truth also goes against everything I believe in.
I believe Christianity is the easy way out, so it's easy to be convinced to take that road. It's easier to put your faith in someone who is supposed to make everything okay, and smite down the evil when they're evil, and give you a feeling of control. It's much harder to own the fact that we don't have control. And it takes a lot more work to try to maintain our faith in ourselves and in each other.
My thing, I continued, is that I think back in the day, someone made a very unfortunate spelling mistake. They meant to write GOOD and they accidentally wrote GOD. But what we need to have faith in, is the goodness between us and all living things.
I can understand where you're coming from, again, he said. But, as you believe you would be committing intellectual suicide by ascribing to this religion, I would be committing intellecutal suicide by NOT believing in it, after the miracles I have seen and the ways in which Christ has revealed himself to me.
That makes sense to me, I said. And I will try to be more objective about it. I'm still going to be cautious, but I'll try and keep an open mind.
In that case, this conversation has been completely worthwhile, he said. His taxi had arrived to take him to Kampala.
I'll pray for you and your safety, he said turning around on the way out.
I thought you would, I responded and smiled.
He smiled back at me and chuckled, then walked out.